Reports indicated that the Armed Forces of Liberia continued to recruit children, both forcibly and voluntarily, in Monrovia and government-controlled areas. Charles Ghankay Taylor stepped down as Liberia’s president on 11 August 2003. Taylor had come under intense pressure after being indicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone in June 2003 for his alleged role in crimes committed during the10-year civil war in Sierra Leone, including the recruitment and use of child soldiers. It is widely known that ex-President Taylor supported the United Revolutionary Front (RUF), which abducted and forcibly recruited children as soldiers in Sierra Leone.136
The conflict in Liberia intensified in the immediate months prior to Charles Taylor’s resignation. Reports indicated increased voluntary and forcible recruitment of child soldiers in Monrovia and government-controlled areas.137 On 22 July UNICEF, the United Nation’s (UN) Special Representative for West Africa, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict and ECOWAS issued a joint urgent appeal for an end to hostilities and emphasized the “unacceptable mobilisation of children and women in violation of all agreed international norms and standards”. The appeal went on to state that “some of the actions against children and women constitute crimes of war under the statute of the International Criminal Court”.138 UNICEF and the NGO Don Bosco also publicly denounced the forcible and voluntary recruitment of girls and boys as young as nine years into Liberian government armed forces.139
Relief workers reported raids on schools and displaced people’s camps, including an attempt to press gang school children into joining the armed forces in the northern town of Ganta on 6 March 2003, which sparked off protest riots.140 International NGOs estimated that at least one in ten children in Montserrado displacement camps were recruited by Government forces.141 As some children testified: “We the children are still being forcefully recruited from the camp. There are incidences of young boys who put up resistance and who were flogged and forcefully recruited”.142 Child soldiers seeking refuge in Sierra Leone reported being forcibly recruited by the government’s Anti-Terrorist Unit and armed forces.143Young male conscripts were forced to carry looted goods and captured weapons and sent to the front, often without proper training.144
Children attempting to flee with their parents towards the border with Sierra Leone were stopped at checkpoints by the Anti-Terrorist Unit. The children were taken away from their parents to a military base, where their heads were shaved. Those children whose parents couldn’t afford to “buy” their freedom were sent to the front lines, often with little or no training.145
In June 2003, the Liberian Defence Minister, Daniel Chea, denied that the government was forcibly conscripting children, arguing that young people were patriotically volunteering.146 However, women representing the internally displaced who demonstrated in Monrovia in April 2003 recounted an increase in forcible conscription of boys and young men, with government security forces shooting randomly as those abducted tried to flee.147
Non-state armed groups
The opposition Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), a group allegedly backed by Sierra Leone, Guinea and the US, continued to recruit and use children. Human Rights Watch reported that children were recruited, sometimes forcibly, and used in offensives and to porter arms, ammunition and other supplies in Liberia’s northern Lofa country, where LURD bases are situated.148 During a June 2003 LURD attack on Gbarnga, eyewitnesses reported children firing rocket-propelled grenades as well as automatic assault rifles.149 Liberian children seeking refuge in Sierra Leone also reported forced recruitment by the LURD.150 On 30 June 2003, the LURD reportedly issued a statement pledging that it would no longer use child soldiers: "Military commanders are herein strictly instructed to release/discharge any military personnel under the age of eighteen."151
The Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) also reportedly recruits and uses child soldiers.152 Human Rights Watch documented cases of recruitment of Liberian and Ivorian children in Cote d’Ivoire by MODEL, to fight in Liberia.153 The UN Panel of Experts on Liberia specifically referred to forcible recruitment of Liberian refugees, including children, in Côte d’Ivoire by Liberian armed opposition groups.154 Most of the Liberian child mercenaries fighting on the side of the Côte d’Ivoire government forces in the neighbouring conflict belonged to MODEL and LURD.155
On 18 August 2003 MODEL, LURD and the Liberian government signed a peace agreement. However, according to the UN, the risk of child soldiers being re-mobilized or new children being recruited by government forces or armed opposition groups remained high as the situation was still extremely volatile.156
Demobilization and child protection programs
A representative of the UN Program for the Coordination of Assistance for Security stated that many programs to disarm and demobilize child fighters and reintegrate them into civilian life had been "badly managed".157 There had been few coordinated efforts by UN agencies on prevention or disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) programs for the thousands of child soldiers participating in the conflict. Many demobilized or escaped child soldiers from Liberia were in refugee camps in Sierra Leone and Guinea. While some were benefiting from child protection programs, many more were at risk of re-recruitment by armed forces and groups fighting in Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire.158
Days after the signature of the peace agreement, child soldiers reportedly began to spontaneously surrender their weapons. On 23 August 2003, 80 ex-child-soldiers who had been fighting in the ranks of either government or opposition forces were under the care of the UN in Monrovia. However, according to UNICEF no official demobilization process had been launched because of the reluctance of commanders and authorities of the different forces to cooperate. They officially denied the existence of child soldiers within their ranks. There were reports of military officials forcing child soldiers under their command to conceal their real age.159
The process of DDR of child soldiers remained a major challenge in a country where, according to UN estimates, nearly 80 per cent of those who have fought in the civil war since 1999 were children.160 The UN requested $25 million from the European Union for the process.161
136 Charles Taylor accepted safe haven in Nigeria.
137 IRIN, “Liberia: Child Soldiers are back on the Frontline”, 9 June 2003; Guardian, “Liberia's Child Soldiers Play War Games With Real Bullets”, 20 June 2003; UNICEF, “An interview with an ex-child soldier in Liberia: The former ‘Captain War Boss’”, 11 June 2003; Information from Amnesty International, June 2003.
139 IRIN, “Liberia: UNICEF calls for end of atrocities against children”, 22 April 2003.
140 IRIN, “Liberia: Child Soldiers are back on the Frontline”, 9 June 2003.
141 Information received from Save the Children, 30 June 2003.
142Garpeh, Eva & Miatta Abdullai, Draft Briefing note of Meeting with Children’s Clubs in Ricks and Wilson Corner Displace ment camps, 1 March 2003, quoted by Save the Children in correspondence to the Coalition, 30 June 2003.
143 Save the Children-UK, Information obtained from interviews with child refugees in Sierra Leone, March - April, 2003.
144 Human Rights Watch, HRW Letter to the UN Security Council Regarding the Mano River Union, 17 July 2002.
145 Human Rights Watch, HRW Letter to the UN Security Council Regarding the Mano River Union, 17 July 2002.
146 BBC, “Former Child Soldiers Said to be back on Front Lines”, 23 March 2003.
147 Kwanue, C.Y, “Schools, Businesses Closed in Nimba, As Citizens Protests Conscription”, The Inquirer, February 27, 2003, Vo. 13, No. 28; information corroborated by Amnesty International, June 2003.
148 Information received from Human Rights Watch, July 2003.
149 IRIN, “Liberia: Child Soldiers are back on the Frontline”, 9 June 2003.
150 Save the Children-UK, Information obtained from interviews with child refugees in Sierra Leone, March - April, 2003.
151 AFP, "Liberian rebels to stop using child fighters: communiqué, 30 June 2003.
152 International Organisation for Migration, “Côte d’Ivoire – Des pluies torrentielles retardent l’évacuation des ressortissants de pays tiers,” Notes pour la presse, 13 June 2003.
153 HRW, “Trapped Between Two Wars: Violence Against Civilians in Western Côte d’Ivoire”, August 2003.
154 UN Panel of Experts on Liberia, S/2003/498, 24 April 2003.
155 HRW, “Trapped between two wars: violence against civilians in western Côte d’Ivoire”. August 2003.
156 AFP, “Les enfants soldats libériens ont commence a déposer les armes (UNICEF)“, 23 August 2003.
157 IRIN, “Liberia: Child Soldiers are back on the Frontline”, 9 June 2003.
158 Information received from Save the Children, 17 March 2003.
159 AFP, “Les enfants soldats libériens ont commence a déposer les armes (UNICEF)“, 23 August 2003.
160 AFP, “Les enfants soldats libériens ont commence a déposer les armes (UNICEF)“, 23 August 2003.
161 AFP, “Le représentant de l’ONU souhaite un gouvernement de technocrates au Liberia”, 17 August 2003.